Generational Architecture

By: Peter Comeau | BSA ‘17

 “Architecture can be seen as the psyche, or collective mind, in spatial and structural form, of a culture

-John Hendrix

This was once holistically true, Architecture functioned as a cultural lens to transcribe empires into monuments that would last. When empires fell their built environment lasted to tell their story. Yet in the contemporary era of technology and a global community we face challenges unprecedented to any nation.  Our generation is on the cusp of a paradigm shift of how we treat Architecture as a profession and an expressive medium. Architecture can be more than a reflection of art and culture, but a means of progressing the future, and Architects can be the facilitators of civilizations.

Up until this point it has been evident that, as architects, we absorb vernacular culture and seek to mimic it in our work. It has been our duty to translate the world into the built environment as we construct monuments to these cultures. Now, culture does not simply mean the era of a certain geographic area and its artistic and intellectual achievements. Culture is the nuance that lies behind every action and expression that we convey throughout our daily lives. How we greet each other, that is culture. How we treat our morning routines, that is culture. Every moment that we live and breathe in our day can be defined as a cultural practice because it is our built environment that has informed how we have progressed to this very moment. Hitherto this paradigm shift it has been culture that has influenced architecture, and because of this system we have seen beautiful works of art that truly capture the culture they were designed to embody. With this system in mind, what would happen if we designed predictively? Allow Architecture to influence the culture, and have Architects standing on the forefront of society deciding what this culture should be by utilizing Architecture to influence the culture towards an appropriate direction.

 Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, a design for the perfect prison

Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, a design for the perfect prison

To put it in another perspective, the Comedy culture uses a term “negative exemplar” as its reasoning for self-depreciative humor being culturally successful. The comedian takes on this persona of society’s scum, a person that the audience rejects; in doing such the comedian is able to surface all of what society disapproves about itself and challenges them to either accept or reject it. Architects are manipulators, of light, sound, space, material language you name it. A skillset suited to surgically identifying relationships and reimagine them to serve a different purpose. If architects were to adopt this theory from the comedic world, we could utilize the built environment to influence society to accept or reject a certain culture. This could be as intimate as to how you court a partner or as personal as how you develop your relationship with your parents. The constructs that we design have the ability to mold future generations into a character that society deems acceptable, so long as you understand where and how these characteristics are developed from the built environment and how to manipulate that condition.

This theology relies on the confidence of Architecture being much more than a medium of space, but as a catalyst of art, intellect, emotion, and thought. It relies on the assumption that architecture doesn’t merely solve spatial problems, but societal and intangible ones as well. This idea deems architects as the mad scientists that work outside of the system and inside of the shadows to guide mankind through its journey on this earth. While this idea may seem like fiction in today’s world, consider that science fiction is the only predecessor to science fact, and that one of the largest factions of religion in our world considers God to be an Architect.

 Paul Rudolph's government center is designed for the people

Paul Rudolph's government center is designed for the people